To Eat or Not to Eat? The paradox of 21st century food culture

Opinions  /  by Stephanie Yoon '19   /  February 09, 2018

There is a huge divide between the “I love food” and “looking good means being thin” mentality here at Lawrenceville. Many students who are very conscious of their weight and who restrict themselves when eating often fall into this trap.

In watching videos of people making indulgent chocolate cake or someone attempting to do the 10,000 calorie challenge, we are told to “treat yo self” with creamy and fatty foods. The ubiquitous mac and cheese or ramen after study hall reflect Lawrenceville’s “no control” eating culture, and we feel compelled to join in the feed or confess our unhealthy eating habits. But at the same time, we are bombarded with messages to stick to more stringent and restrictive diets, including paleo, vegan, whole30, sugar-free and carb-free ones. The media imposes a certain body standard that comes with a slew of rules and restrictions. We hear that carbs are the enemy, that we should eat no more than a certain amount of calories, and that we should skip meals to look great at social events. In the process, we ultimately lose a sense of ourselves by judging our worth through numbers: the 1,200 daily caloric intake, the sub-100 pounds on the scale, the size double-zero.

This treat-yo-self and stay-thin paradox is rooted in our inability to listen to our bodies’ true needs and nourish them accordingly. Doubting our ability to provide the best for our own bodies, we create habits—or, more accurately, unrealistic and restrictive rules that we impose on ourselves. We trust others’ rules and opinions to fix our own bodies—but why? The media and current slew of weight-loss programs teach us that our habits reflect how much we love ourselves. We have to eat spinach-green smoothies, and we should only eat desserts that are made from all-organic, vegan ingredients. If we don’t, we’re taught to believe that we are not taking care of ourselves or valuing our bodies. And at Lawrenceville in particular, where there is a dense concentration of high-achieving perfectionists who live in such close proximity, the desire to control one more thing, their eating habits, is much, is much more intense.

However, our eating habits do not lead us to feel self-love or self-respect. Rather, our habits spring from our pre-existing or lack thereof. As kids, we were taught the food pyramid in school, and our parents instructed us to eat our veggies because as kids we didn’t know how to exercise self-care in the form of nutrition. We have bedtime to give our bodies the rest and recovery it needed, and we have recess and sports to give our bodies adequate exercise. Indeed, we are taught lessons meant to develop our self-respect for our bodies and minds. The order was always that way.

Self-love compels us to not only accept but also embrace our bodies. We have to get rid of the notion that you will accept yourself once you reach that number on the scale or the right size on your clothes. The food we eat today, have eaten in the past, and will eat in the future simply becomes a reflection of this acceptance and abundant love for ourselves.

By no longer having to quantify our worth, we no longer eat excessively to feed our inner psychological need, nor do we over-exercise to reach a certain body type built upon elusive happiness. Instead, we eat for physical nourishment, and we exercise for physical vigor and strength. And most importantly, we break free from the paradox.